HER BOOKS ON AMAZON
  • Wine and Climate Change: Winemaking in a New World
    Wine and Climate Change: Winemaking in a New World
    by L. J. Johnson-Bell
  • Pairing Wine and Food: A Handbook for All Cuisines
    Pairing Wine and Food: A Handbook for All Cuisines
    by Linda Johnson-Bell
  • Home Cellar Guide Hb
    Home Cellar Guide Hb
    by Linda Johnson-Bell
  • Quel vin pour quel plat ?
    Quel vin pour quel plat ?
    by Linda Johnson-Bell
  • Great Wine Tours of the World
    Great Wine Tours of the World
    Barnes and Noble Books
  • The Wine Collector's Handbook
    The Wine Collector's Handbook
    by Linda Johnson
  • De juiste wijn bij het juiste gerecht
    De juiste wijn bij het juiste gerecht
    by Johnson-Bell Linda

  • Good Food, Fine Wine: A Practical Guide to Finding the Perfect Match
    Good Food, Fine Wine: A Practical Guide to Finding the Perfect Match
    by LINDA JOHNSON-BELL

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Monday
Jan022012

Supermarket Sweep : Ignorant consumers, impatient producers, gagged journalists and bad buyers ….

 

 

I wanted to find some decent supermarket wines to write about in my next Taste Italia article. I drove around to a few local supermarkets and bought about six bottles of Italian wine from each. I never buy my wine in supermarkets, except for Waitrose, because I prefer to buy it in Europe and drive it home, or buy through my husband’s wine agents and pay restaurant trade prices … which I still think are too expensive. Having always assumed that all supermarket wine is bad wine, I wanted to determine how biased my opinion really was. I also invited a few friends to see what they thought.

 

I learned several things …

 

1. Since when have supermarkets been putting sell-by dates on the bottles? Where have I been? I was discussing this topic with some colleagues a few months ago in France and assumed it was a joke.

 

2. There are actually some really enjoyable vino de tavola - quality wines out there that provide good value.

 

3. Supermarket buyers are a changed breed.

 

 

Ignorant consumers and impatient producers …

 

Never in my life did I think I would read on the back of a Chianti label, the words:  “to be consumed within 6 months of purchase”.  I have seen the whole picture now – the joke has come full-circle.  I think I know how and why this has happened: when the Old-World age-worthy reds were sold in supermarkets, the consumer did not understand that you cannot compare a young Bordeaux blend to a “Heritage” blend from California or Australia. The New World wines, due largely to climatic conditions and the use of lots of new oak, were fruity, approachable and immediately drinkable – no cellaring required. The consumer did not understand why they had to buy a French or Italian wine then, that they could not enjoy that instant, but have to cellar. Who cellars anymore? Today, everyone buys for their wine in the night. So, now the Old World producers who have the supermarkets as their target audience, have regressed and made New World versions of their grapes. They want to get in on the action and follow this consumer trend and be easy and approachable too. And what is ironic, is that Mother Nature has been propelling the Old World towards this hot, alcoholic, in-your-face style anyway.

 

Still, I don’t understand why you’d want to make an early-drinking Chianti. Also, nearly all of the wines had screw-caps. Which, if the wine really is meant to be drunk in under a year, makes sense. But ….it annoys me that the wine industry has had to bend over backwards to accommodate consumer trends based on utter ignorance and impatience. The consumers are ignorant and the producers are impatient. When a wine producer says “hey, I give the people what they want”, this is wrong (they don’t ALL say this, by the way). The consumer will buy what they are given – what is put on the shelves. If you put crap on the shelves … they will drink crap. Period.

Gagged journalists …

 

Consumers should not be followed, they should be led. …and educated…which is another entire issue and rant of its own. Editors of wine columns in newspapers and magazines now only ask that their wine writers merely provide a glorified “shopping list” as opposed to content that is educative. That’s assuming that they even fork out the money for a wine expert to write their wine column. Most of them now promote a self-proclaimed expert from within their publication. And if all this said expert is doing  is listing the wine on sale at Tesco, copying the back of the label for content and sticking in a food match ….you don’t need an expert, just a self-important moron.

 

Bad buyers …

 

So, who is putting the crap on the shelves? The producers or the buyers? The trade has completely changed. I remember, when editing Vintage Magazine in Paris, back in the early 90s,  I would meet UK buyers when tasting in Burgundy or Bordeaux – the Press and the Trade mixed at the larger tastings. We journalists looked upon the UK buyers with envy and awe. In most cases, they had been well-trained and had well-formed Old-World palates. If I fell in love with a rustic, animal, seductively perfumed Pommard, I could write about it, yes. But if a Buyer did, he or she could decide on the spot to buy it and have an order drawn up for large quantities. The power ….

 

Then, this power was taken away from them. Any Buyer with experience was fired and replaced by a young thing who never lived in a wine-producing country and was trained to buy-by-numbers. …if they are even allowed to buy. In Chianti recently, I listened to a many buyers as they went about their business. I am determined to find the missing link in this chain. They all inevitably zeroed in on the easiest, most approachable, ubiquitous wines that were present at the tasting - the worst ones, really. They were choosing the wines they thought the international consumer would pay for. They were  not buying, hence rewarding, the wines that were the best made, the superior wines, the wines that the consumer should be drinking. And usually for the sake of a euro, in most cases, may I add (ah, but this 1 euro, multiplied up the margin chain would fatten unrecognisably). And then they talked price cuts and volume discounts and then they told the producer that they would have to check back with headquarters and get back to them – a process I have been told can take six months. It was a most repulsive procedure to witness.

 

Anyway ….here is a small sampling of my local find. It was an enjoyable exercise and one I shall repeat regularly.

 

 

SAINSBURY’S

 

Sainsbury’s House Chianti DOC 13% 2010

 

The label does not mention the grape variety, so there is no way to tell if it is a classic Sangiovese or a Super Tuscan -version and mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, well, I could taste it and tell….will give it a go. The wine is classified under their “smooth and mellow” style category … this is done to assist the consumer in selecting their wine. But all essential wine-making details are withheld. So it is not teaching anyone anything, but is promoting “buying by numbers”, like when the labour government temporarily dropped the classic phonetic spelling technique in favour of the learn by sight method and filled our country with a generation of illiterates.

 

This is the first time that I have seen a recommendation to drink Chianti within 6 months of purchase. Little or no oak, which should mean a refreshing lively wine, but here, lays bare a poor quality of matière première (primary matter – fruit extracts).

Nose is clean and fruity. Mouth is astringent and medicinal. Cherry bon-bon,. A technical and poorly-made wine.

 

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC, Mondelli, Edizione Uno 2010

 

Nose fresh and warm, well-balanced, slightly oaked very appealing. Not bad on the palate. Oak is soft, but “stuck on” like a Post-it. very sweet. No finish. Very little varietal character – could be any grape. All the appeal and attraction is in the first attack. Again, this has a screw cap and a suggestion that it is drunk within the year of purchase. So these people are not even bothering to make a wine for cellaring. So, to be fair, it does what it says on the label. This wine was not made to hold the road and it won’t. Eggy finish.

 

Primitivo del Salento, IGT 2010 Puglia, Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference

 

Screw cap, drink within one year of purchase. Nose, stewed plums and oak. Palate. is hot and finish is alcoholic and short. Retro-olfactive is like a shot of ether alcohol. So hot all the varietal character is erased …could be anything.

 

 

M & S

 

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2010, M & S

 

Less-insulting label: provides grape variety (Montepulciano) and region and winemaker’s name. Still recommends drinking this noble grape variety in under 6 months!! Screw cap. Nose is tight and focused. Palate goes nowhere – it falls apart here. Cheap cherry soda. No finish.

 

*M & S Italian Red NV

 

12.5%, one-litre sized bottle, screw cap. Just says that it is a blend of grapes from Puglia, to drink within 3 months of purchase!!! Clean, fresh nose. Balanced, straightforward palate, finish is decent. Harmonious, pleasant. Delicious. Has a lovely rustic feel to it – a vino de tavola …not bad.

 

 

TESCO

 

 

Greco di Tufo, Lava  2010 DOC, £12.99

 

12.5%, natural cork, label in Italian, apologising for any debris at bottom of bottle due to their minimalist winemaking techniques ..hmmmm, marketing hype or true? I love Geco di Tufo…I love volcanic whites…for their acidity, austerity and steeliness and smoky appeal. This is flabby, sweet and highly citric. Very unappealing. Made my eyes water and my mouth pucker.

 

Villa Taurini, Barbera, Piedmont 2009 DOC £4.99

 

13.5% Very sweet and okay on the nose. No drink time limit – should have, because this won’t last at all. Flabby, sweet, lacking any structure or varietal character. All sweet oak and sweet fruit. No identity at all.

 

Nero d’Avola, Sicily 2010 £6.99

 

13.5%, bottled by Settesoli, in Menfi, Sicily. Label says vineyards are selected by Diego Planeta. Mr Planeta’s wines are in my opinion, always hot and big and New World and lack subtly or terroir or style. I seriously do not get why he has suddenly ecome a huge wine celebrity – probably for putting Sicily back on the map at all. You can taste his imprint on this wine. This wine has a wonderful enticing, flashy first attack, with bright, intense fruit and then after the premature explosion, there is nothing. Palate is heavy and non-descript. Boring.

 

*Chianti Riserva DOC 2008, £7.99

 

Here, the label says that it is Sangiovese and from Chianti, explains its bottle aging and suggests it will age a further 2 years. A very decent Chianti in deed. Nothing to fault. A light, clean nose focused fruity well-balanced palate and a clean finish, moderately long finish. A pleasure.

 

 

** Tesco’s Barolo DOC 2007  £12.73

 

14%, label says to age another 5 years, explains that it is made from Nebbiolo and from Piedmont. Good. Stunning nose of pencil lead … elegant, grown-up, smoky. Mouth well-balanced. Gorgeous fruit –clean, focused finish. Well-made. A touch too high in alcohol, but the fruit just manages to keep it in check.

 

 

 

 

 

CO-OP

 

*Co-op Sicilian white IGT  NV, £3.79

 

12%. Screw cap. Good label, includes grape and region info: Inzolia, Catarratto, Grecanico.  Just love this one. Really original. Voluptuous oozing tropical fruit wrapped up in a steely, volcanic acidity. It moves and evolves and keeps your interest. A great find.

 

Orvieto Clasico 2010, £5.75

 

12%. Grapes: Procanico, Verdello, Malvasia, Grechetto, Drupeggio,

Another good, clear, informative label. Wine is flabby and insipid. Lacks acidity. Painful.

 

Co-op Valpolicella 2010 £4.79

 

12%, Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara

Informative label with grapes and “best by” info: Drink within 12 month. Has that  cherry bon-bon, medicinal taste, but less so than many others I have tasted. Am pretty impressed by this.

 

Canti vino rosso, NV  £4.75

 

Produced by Fratelli Martini but no label info, what grapes ? 12%

Non-descript and harmless. Ok. No huge faults. Correct but no more.

 

*La Chiave Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2010, £4.29

 

Good label. Nose is closed at this tasting, but it is serious, tight, focused. Composed, restrained fruit. Very grown-up. Body holds together nicely with solid fruits. Well-made, nice. A bit sweet.

 

 

** Co-op Sicilian red NV, £3.79

 

Grapes: Sangiovese, Frappato, Nero d’Avola, A lovely surprise. Appealing, true varietal character – well-balanced, nothing dominates the clean, heathy fruit – very solid little wine.  

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